Community Health Education major
Exploring Health and Healthcare Systems in South Africa
Summer I short-term faculty-led program
I can’t believe I’m finally here! In South Africa! I can’t even begin to explain how I felt when we landed in Port Elizabeth. I was excited, nervous, scared, ecstatic….I was so ready to begin my adventure here!
When I first arrived in South Africa, we were taken to the apartment that we would be staying in while we were here, which is only 2 blocks away from a grocery store and a few restaurants, and the INDIAN OCEAN! It is so amazing to wake up and be able to see and hear the ocean outside your building. We are also only 2 blocks away from where our professor, Dr. Bensley, is staying with his colleague Andre`. Andre` was born and raised in South Africa and lives in Summerstrand with his wife, Marina, and their daughter. Andre` and Marina have been so welcoming and sweet to us since we’ve been here!
There are a few large differences here compared to the United States. For instance their currency here is rand, instead of the dollar. They have bills of 200, 100, 50, 20, and 10 rand; and they have silver coins of 5, 2, and 1 rand. When I needed to get money out, I go to the local grocery store where they have an ATM that gives me rand instead of US dollars. With the current exchange rate 1 US dollar equals 15 rand!
I am grateful that our professor told us before we left for this trip to have our debit card, AND to get a credit card. I was very wary about getting a credit card because it is such a large responsibility to own one, but I was happy I had it when my debit card did not work at a few select ATMs and stores. He also told us to keep cash on us in a couple different spots, just in case something were to happen. I keep cash in my purse, and some in my pockets.
One thing that surprised me when I arrived here is that everyone has a tall cement wall or steel fence around their house or apartment, and they all have steel bars on their windows. In the US, whenever I see a wall like that around someone’s house I think they must have a little more money to be able to afford it. But here, they built fences around everything and put bars on windows when apartheid was still in action to keep people from breaking into their homes. Another thing that really shocked me is that there are no flying bugs here! None! In the US, especially in Michigan, I am used to dealing with flies, mosquitoes, gnats, bees, etc. Here, they don’t even have screens on their windows because they don’t have to deal with them!
Before I left for South Africa I bought an international phone plan so I could still call my mom while I was away. The only time we have Wi-Fi here is when we’re out to dinner at a restaurant or if we’re at Andre’s house. We are supposed to have Wi-Fi at our apartment, but it never works. I like not having Wi-Fi and service 24/7 because it forces me not to always be on my phone doing stuff. Because of this, I have had some of the most meaningful conversations with the rest of the girls! There are 6 of us in our apartment, (the other 6 are split into 2 3-bedroom apartments), so at night before bed we all journal and talk about our time here. We have gotten to know each other so quickly! I have only communicated with a couple other people since I’ve been here, but I try not to be on my phone too much other than uploading pictures to Facebook and calling my mom.
Since we’ve been gone, we have done so many things, and we’re only half way through our trip! We have spent a day exploring London, been on a game drive through Kragga Kamma private game reserve, saw a lecture on Peer Helping and Wellness in South Africa at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, met Dr. Siva Pillay who gave us a lecture on Public Health Issues in South Africa, toured the townships on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth, hiked on the otter trail along the Indian ocean in Tstsikamma, saw a lecture on AIDS Issues in South Africa and Traditional Healing and Management of HIV/AIDS in South Africa at Fort Hare University, met traditional healers and saw them perform their ritual in their community, and hiked on Hogsback mountain. Wow. That is a lot of stuff! We still have a full week left to explore and learn about this country, and I can’t wait to see what it has in store!